Excuse me for going a bit into some history before talking of the actual journey. I feel this whole event must have come a little out of the blue for most SFZero players so a bit of a tale is in order to fill in the blanks.
I met Alex at Journey To The End of The Night Manhattan
. We travelled the journey together and in the semi-drunken, adrenaline fueled haze at the end made an agreement to try our best to bring Sam, Sean and Ian over and run it in London.
Suddenly it was April, and I found myself part of a small group planning the first pervasive games festival in Europe
for the 11-13th of May, all hosted by the mysterious Mr Gideon Reeling. Funding was tight, there was no way we could get the playtime men over, however with infinite generosity we were given full permission to run it ourselves, it was to be the jewel in the crown, the opening game.
Several weeks were spent on heavy yet joyous planning. Long days disappeared walking through London plotting checkpoints and discussing how it all might possibly go. Ribbons were reused from previous events
. Suddenly before you could even try to come up with a good way to explain to your friends what a pervasive game was, the festival was upon us.
It was the night of the journey, and I found myself in the role of lead chaser, passing information on to our crack commando team of chasers about where to move to. By the scheduled time of start for the game I hadn’t slept for just over 36 hours (except for 20 minutes I got on the train to the starting point. Sleep had been forfeited in an attempt to get a newly designed game ready in time for the day following, it still wasn’t ready and I knew this nights sleep would be nonexistent too. However these thoughts of work were to be put aside for now, because it was time for the hunt
The starting location was truly epic, a giant imposing rundown warehouse in east London. The team of chasers that had formed were equally imposing. Watching a man on powerizers bound down the road is a beautifully surreal sight.
Unfortunately the weather had decided to be British, it had started to rain heavily. We lost many players because of it, but just over 80 courageous souls turned up ready to play the fox to our hounds. A few brief photographs round the back of our trusty white vans (later to play a massive role in ferrying chasers/scaring players with megaphones etc) and we headed out to find suitable locations.
I headed off with the pack, and then doubled back when everyone split and found a suitable hiding spot in an apartment blocks atrium near to the starting location, I had to beat the crowd to the second checkpoint and pick up a late arriving chaser on the way, and for that I was going to need a set of wheels. Suddenly I could hear screams and running feet, quickly followed by the sound of one of our vans hurtling past with Alex on the megaphone shouting “I forgot to tell you. You’re looking for two girls in top hats! Run you dogs run!” I laughed and put up my black shemagh to cover my face, preparing to make a move. Suddenly running feet again, coming the other way, a completely spooked girl ran straight into the atrium. I was hidden from her immediate view as she ran in, but once she got to the fence at the back and turned around, we locked eyes and she froze. I stood my ground, half surprised myself at the whole situation.
Two more players followed her into the atrium but she grabbed their arms just as they were turning in and they all pegged it out of there. It all happened in a heartbeat. I regained my composure, took a few deep breaths, turned the corner, vaulted the staircase and dropped to street level. I still needed that ride.
The rain was really starting to chuck it down in bucket loads when Kate and I pulled out from the starting point. Kate was the head organizer for the Journey, the head honcho, and she had to make several errands in the van before making her way to the final point. It turned out that the girls at the first checkpoint in Brick Lane were in tail suits and not top hats, cue a quick call to Alex to spread the megaphone update to players.
Picking up Andre, the last chaser, from the station we made our way to St Paul’s, the second check point, where we had two guys as buskers playing guitars.
On the way we spied a thoroughly soaked Ben, his powerizers were not coping too well with the rain. He clambered aboard and we were on our merry way again.
Arrived at St Pauls and scouted out a few good areas to herd people into for added fear factor. The rain was nearly all finished now, people were going to be getting a little more confidant. I cut two arm lengths of red ribbon out of the 100 metres I had in my backpack (In case of emergencies) and handed them over to Andre so he could look the part. We parted ways with Ben who had plans to hide in a phone booth (they all smell of piss) and burst out as players passed. A few phone calls had to be made to check in with HQ and move the hounds on, and when they were finished we found ourselves a nice dark spot in a mini park near to the checkpoint. We got some really good ambushing done here, breaking up groups and causing people to flee in all directions. It was after our fourth or fifth chase, I was reaching into my bag to cut off some more ribbon to make a nearby statue an honorary chaser when I saw blue lights.
Cor blimey! It’s the fuzz!
Realising I hadn’t don’t anything wrong we calmly waited for them to come to us. It was as they were exiting the car that I realised my hand inside my backpack was still clasping a big pair of scissors. I was holding a concealed weapon while the police were approaching me, I gently let it drop from my grasp back into the bag and slung it over my shoulder as gingerly as possible.
We smiled and nodded at them as they walked towards us. Cue a bit of sweet talking and explanation that it was all a game and no one was vandalizing any public property from myself to the officers. I could see Kate in the white van out of the corner of my eye watching intently in case handcuffs were about to be brought into the equation.
Fortunately they were cool to the idea and said they’d put the word out to other officers in the field. From St Paul’s we hop skipped and jumped our way on the underground to the third checkpoint at Tottenham court road and scouted around for any wayward players in the crowds.
A few skirmishes. The bus stops were really being used well by players, much more so than I remember in New York. This is probably because they are a lot more visible and defined with seats and shelter. The main pack of the players had holed themselves up inside the third checkpoints safety zone. The contact was in one of the pubs, a blind man reading a newspaper, and everyone was taking the time to grab a pint and relax for a few minutes. This was certainly another factor we hadn’t fully considered, while we had reports of a hardcore group of players making their way to the 4th and 5th locations, the main bulk were taking it easy and getting merry. A handful of more phone calls later and our chasers were repositioning to give the bulk space to move and to try and catch the guys at the front.
We picked up some food, meeting up with Ben, minus the powerizers though he had acquired a fetching pink umbrella, and a chaser dressed in a beret, leather jacket and white gloves, the urban guerrilla mime.
All four of us made ourselves scarce and caught a bus to the 4th checkpoint, leaving Mr Wallis, a suited gentleman chaser to keep an eye on the horde at the 3rd and to thin out their ranks a little. Yet more phone calls on the bus, a speedy team had managed to reach the end and it was still early night. We got out at Hyde Park Corner and made our way through the park aiming to place ourselves between the 4th and 5th locations which were very close together (The 4th was a ringing red phone box out the back of the royal albert hall) before moving towards the 4th. Along the way in dark we spotted several shadows lurching suspiciously. Aha! Players! … aha, cruisers. Time to move onwards we think. We made it to the back of the royal albert and spied the phone booth in the distance. The film crew that were running a documentary of the entire festival were crouched down next to one of our original chasers, she had a new girl in tow and they were working as a pair waiting in ambush on the staircase leading from the phone booth to the 5th check point, the Russians by the lake in Hyde Park.
Keeping low and moving quickly we spread out to saturate the stairs and nearby bushes with red ribboned people. The film crew ran a small interview with one of our number while the rest waited for prey. Suddenly movement, shouting and we fell upon them. One was caught and the rest back down the steps into the safe zone around the phone box. A small back and forth with chasers trying to tempt the players, but it was to no avail and we moved back towards the park. Looking to cause a few frights in the late night. Several odd bumps and runs happened, I began to put the flash on my camera to use on shadowy figures nearby. At one point the flash showed up a recently caught lady carrying a piñata.
But mostly the bulk still hadn’t seem to have come through yet.
We grew bored and started to call the phone booth ourselves (Having been the one to record the number during the scouting operation the week earlier had its benefits)
“Who is this”
“Who is this?”
“Oh were the chasers.”
“Catch you later.”
We met with the Russians at the lake and took the time to put our feet up for a few minutes, while they entertained us with their cossack dancing that they had to do whenever anyone came near to prove they were true Russians.
My feet were really killing me and it was now 40 hours since I had slept. Nothing was remotely recognizable as reality anymore. Pink umbrella, a dark park, red ribbons, bad Russian accents, phone calls, people were finishing the game, there was a large killing field happening between 4th and 5th but before the park and the phone box checkpoint was being shut down and sign posted to point people towards the party at the end. I had to make phone calls to try and get friends who I knew were still making there way there. I called, they refused to tell me where they were, they hung up. We hung around in the park for an extra half hour after the checkpoint is meant to shut down and agree to meet some friends who are definitely bringing up the rear as they’re only now getting to the 4th checkpoint. (They had been playing a slightly different game it seems and stopping off to have drinks at various points) and lead the way to the final check point at festival pier on the Thames’s southbank. (The tide had scuppered plans to hold a beach party) A handshake was made between one rather drunken Queen Z and Geronimo as a goodwill gesture before we call it an end and get taxis.
We arrive at the final point and meet everyone there and are ferried onto the bar where everyone is relaxing. I finally am able to see the blood soaking through my chucks.
My small toe must have gotten cut along the way and had been bleeding rather heavily for most of the journey to manage to soak through my sock, and through my shoe. I doze on a friendly shoulder.
1.30am Im awoken by a call, 12 players are in Hyde Park, in the dark, trying to find a nonexistent check point. Hells bells. How did that happen? Must apologizing has to be given out. I agree to fabric paint them all festival t-shirts for free.
Sometime after this we finally leave and make our way across the river. On the bridge we practically bump into this statue. These bad boys are going up all over London at the moment, appearing ontop of tall buildings all over the skyline. Really beautiful stuff. I couldnt resist.
2.45am We catch the night bus home, sleeping on shoulders along the way and arrive back at our cosy abode at 4.30am. Geronimo crashed on the couch. I turn on the laptop and return to finishing the game design for the day, but that’s another story.
We had reached the end of the night.